Happy birthday, William Henry Ireland!
Born August 2, 1775, the youthful forger filled Shakespeare’s biographical void by creating the sort of personal literary effects scholars had been energetically but vainly searching for.
While the Bard’s peers left behind letters, manuscripts, and other written relics, all that had been found in William Shakespeare’s hand at the close of the 18th century were 5 signatures (now, 250 years of diligent hunting later, we have added only 1 more signature).
William Henry Ireland’s forgeries fooled many experts of the day and provided the world with Shakespeare’s love letters to Anne Hathaway, play manuscripts, unpublished poems, correspondence with the Earl of Southampton, and other documents that fleshed out the life and personality of the ghostly author. Ireland’s most ambitious project was an all-new Shakespeare play. Vortigern and Rowena premiered to great acclaim and closed in infamy all on the same night, April 2, 1796.
At age 20, Ireland was forced to retire from forgery, and he settled into a second career as a gothic novelist. Later in life, he chronicled his exploits as Shakespeare in the bestselling Confessions of William Henry Ireland.